The Language of the Horn

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It is nearly impossible to get through a visit to Mumbai and not notice the traffic punctuated by constantly and consistently blaring horns.  Spending the past week and a half sitting in the front seat of a 4 door sedans, being escorted to and from meetings clear across the city, I’ll admit, I may have uttered a few more Hail Marys’ than normal.  But, from this vantage point and given the number of hours we spent sitting in traffic, I had plenty of time to take in and attempt to understand this dissonant form of communication.

Traffic in India is NOTHING like traffic in the United States.  The dotted lines down the middle of the road provide lovely decorations, but certainly don’t indicate separate lanes.  Crossing an intersection, while death defying on foot, in the “protection” of a vehicle, feels just as harrowing.  I couldn’t tell if our driver was amused or annoyed every time I gasped as we narrowly missed hitting and, in just as many instances, being hit by, the cars, bikes, pedestrians, motorcycles, trucks and occasional farm animal we were attempting to pass.  Initially white knuckled and hoping my travel , the more I observed the traffic, actual patterns emerged.  In some ways, it seemed more efficient than the orderly and impatient lanes of traffic surrounding DC.  Our driver continually sought open gaps, however small they may at first appear.  For those of you Harry Potter fans, imagine the Knight Bus, barreling through the streets of London, managing to squeeze through even the narrowest spaces.

The cacophony of horns made these traffic patterns possible.  Many of the trucks we passed went so far as to ask that vehicles wanting to pass to “please ok honk.”  Back home, honking is angry and aggressive generally indicating extreme irritation or fear of getting hit. Not that I’m saying Indian horns do not express these emotions as well, but in most cases, it seemed to be a simple “Hey, there’s a small space here.  Can you move just a few inches over, so I can squeeze by?”

I won’t go so far as to suggest that I’ll miss the constant background music of Mumbai traffic, but it certainly has been interesting to observe.

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